This proposal, like others we have seen in Indiana, would be a liberal expansion of
incarceration. The seemingly benevolent components of this plan suggest a humanitarian approach to the issues that affect people who are incarcerated. However, the actual effect of placing services that should exist outside of the criminal justice system into the
framework of that system naturally widens the net of people who will be captured. Though we are in need of mental health facilities, treatment centers for people with
substance use issues, shelters and transitional living spaces for people experiencing homelessness - placing these services under the umbrella of a justice campus places the people affected by those services into the justice system. Additionally, it criminalizes mental health, addiction, homelessness and poverty.
Incarceration is used as solution to social, economic and health problems. Do the elected officials of Marion County not know how to address the problems that plague our
community, even though we are giving them the solutions? Or do they actually believe that building a justice campus is the best solution?
If it is the former, our goal is to change the paradigm around incarceration - this is why we advocate for mental health facilities, rehab and treatment facilities, shelters, funding for education and job programs, etc. This is why it is important to understand police violence, racialized policing, racialized disparity in sentencing, bail reform, etc. If it is the latter, we have no choice but to believe in the malevolence of our elected officials - because how can one choose to place a human being in a cage and expose that person to conditions most would consider abuse if it were done to an animal?
30-40% of people in Marion County jails have a mental illness. Simply building more jails does not address the problem. Our community needs to invest in mental health
treatment so that more people can access services that they need to keep them stable in their community. Jail and prison are not the right places to treat mental illness, but many people living with mental illness end up there because of lack of emergency mental health services.
Supporting people living with mental illness in their community by providing access to care and treatment services could decrease the need for law enforcement intervention, and also decrease the number of people arrested and jailed because of mental health crisis situations. This would have benefits to the community that extend far beyond law enforcement and corrections. Simply by spending this money on clinics and treatment settings that provide access to medicines, therapy, and other mental health services, we could improve the whole community by helping all residents live productive lives.
Our community is currently served by the Reuben Engagement Center, whose primary mission is to provide service linkages for residents who are homeless, or at risk of becoming so, as well as residents who are struggling with alcohol and substance misuse. Part of the new jail proposal involves closing this facility and bundling these services into the new complex. This is counterproductive if the purpose of providing these services is to help residents live healthier lives in the community. That process should necessarily include plans to reduce incarceration through community-based services and treatment options for people living with mental illness or substance misuse disorders.
Our most vulnerable residents deserve to be helped rather than punished, which is why we advocate for increased investment into community mental health services and diversion programs rather than investing in a new jail.
If we end money bail, we end several problems with our current jail system. These problems are being used to justify the proposed justice campus in Twin Aire. Ending money bail could end overcrowding. 84% of people in Marion County Jails are not convicted of a crime. They are pre-disposition, meaning they have not yet had a hearing. While they could be back to work, back with their families, back in their community during this wait for a hearing to be scheduled, these folks couldn’t pay the bail to get out. That means someone can be innocent of wrongdoing and eventually released without charge, but they didn’t have the money didn’t have the money to post bail. In the time waiting in jail, jobs are lost, housing is lost, children are without parents-- tremendous harm is inflicted on our communities. This should not be so. Many other cities around the US have already lead the way in bail reform and have eliminated this toxic cycle. In Marion County, our jails are overwhelmingly housing people not because they are dangerous but because they are poor.
Ending money bail is a goal that the Indiana Supreme Court has already set for the state. In 2013, the Indiana Supreme Court directed the Criminal Justice system to investigate ending money bail for community members who are at low risk of flight and little danger to self or others. This ruling, Criminal Rule 26, was adopted September of 2016 by the Indiana Supreme Court and directs the state to adopt this practice in stages over the next two years. However, Marion County has not participated in the trial of this program. Instead, we have seen great effort to build more jails in Marion County, even on the cusp of a change that could end the overcrowding that made this plan seem so necessary.
Ending money bail could end the devastating cycle for those termed “super utilizers”; community members who encounter repeated arrests and detentions, often due to the criminalization of homelessness and poverty. This small number of community members currently take up a disproportionate amount of the criminal justice resources. Their problems are not ones that can be solved with jail time; their problems require support in healthcare and community services. The proposed justice campus suggests it can address root causes for these vulnerable community members. But the solution isn't better jail cells or more jail cells, the solution is getting these community members the community support they need.
One of the myths that has most contributed to the swelling of police budgets is the idea that police keep us safe. The U.S., and Indiana along with all the other states, has/have been devoting more and more money to policing since the late 1960s, growing police forces in numerical terms and in technology. Would we have done this if the public knew what police really do? Scholars who have looked at this issue are all in agreement:
“One of the earliest findings of sociological research on policing, replicated time and time again over the last fifty years, is that—contrary to popular images—most police work does not involve crime or at any rate law enforcement.” Instead “the overwhelming majority of calls for police assistance are service rather than crime related.” There is a mass of research showing that “criminal law enforcement is something that most police officers do with the frequency located somewhere between virtually never and very rarely. … that less than a third of time spent on duty is on crime-related work; that approximately eight out of ten incidents handled by patrols by a range of different police departments are regarded by the police themselves as non-criminal matters; that the percentage of police effort devoted to traditional criminal law matters probably does not exceed 10 per cent; that as little as 6 per cent of a patrol officer’s time is spent on incidents finally defined as ‘criminal.’”
It’s time for citizens to realize that we ask police to do things that would be better done by social workers, traffic directors, crowd managers, child services, counselors, medics, firefighters, and so on. It is dangerous to have people trained in violence and carrying guns deal with the public so frequently. We spend too much money on police and not enough on other people who are actually trained to do the things police end up doing. We need systems in place that will us the services we need without cops.
People in the Midwest sometimes assume that racial relations are easier here, or that the smaller population of people of color means there is also less racism. Unfortunately, that doesn’t turn out to be true. Indiana concentrates its people of color in criminal justice systems as badly as some of the most notorious southern states. Consider: the percentage of African-American Hoosiers in the total state population is 9%, while the percentage of African-Americans in the Indiana prison population is 35%. This is a disparity of 26%--the same disparity as Alabama, where Black people are 30% of the population but 56% of prisoners. These figures were compiled by Illinois-based prison activist James Kilgore using demographic figures from state governments and prison statistics from state DOCs (Departments of Correction) or the non-profit policy group, The Sentencing Project (see http://www.sentencingproject.org).
Hoosiers need to see the criminal justice system as the engine of racial discrimination and inequality that it is. The more we rely on police, prisons, and courts to deal with social problems, the more we will generate racial division, hatred, and fear. The more we can fund non-punitive solutions to harm, particularly the essential preventive measures of education, health care, and anti-poverty programs, the less we will feed the beast of racism in our state.
This is the first in a series of statements written by members of the No New Jail Coalition to highlight the various reasons we oppose the proposed "justice campus."
The new jail proposed for Indianapolis will cost too much. Up to $650 million is proposed for the construction of the “justice campus,” and that doesn’t include the cost of daily operations or maintenance. That kind of money could make a truly positive impact on everyone in our city. We could build shelters for people experiencing homelessness, invest in our schools, fund neighborhood community centers and gardens, and create living-wage jobs that are accessible to people who are unemployed and underemployed.
Even the $31 million Hogsett wants to spend for a financial analysis of the proposal would make a real and lasting impact if it was used responsibly. We have to quit wasting money like this. Former mayor Greg Ballard spent more than $16 million on studies and planning for a similar proposal that was slated to cost $1.75 billion.
Cages, coercion, and confinement do not keep our community safe. People are safe when they feel empowered and free. Let us think outside the cage of incarceration to bring real safety to the people of Marion County.